Bush goes south of the border for popularity

By Kirkwood Callahan • Guest Columnist

Concerned Americans await the concluding acts of the political drama the president and his allies call “comprehensive immigration reform.” Many questions remain unanswered. The most salient is: Why are the president and Republican leaders in the Senate gambling with our national security?

Here are some facts for readers possibly distracted by their golf games or garden duties this summer.

The White House negotiated with senators of both parties to produce a bill that addresses all aspects of the immigration issue. The result was a 300-page document intended to whiz through the Senate in a couple of weeks. The president and his allies — including liberal icon Ted Kennedy — expected the rest of us to lay low and be quiet. Their expectations were wrong.

Informed Americans pushed back. Edwin Meese, in a June 7 opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal, laid before the American public frightening provisions in the bill. Ronald Reagan’s attorney general explained how illegal aliens could acquire legal status almost overnight. Within six months of the law’s enactment applications for “Z” visas would be accepted. The federal government would have only one business day to investigate an applicant’s background before being required to grant a provisional “Z” visa. A criminal record might be the basis for rejection, but even that remains problematic. Subsequent amendments made certain not all crimes are a basis for denial and one business day is not enough time to research applicants who can easily change names and conceal true identities.

Applicants need present only two documents — such as rent receipts and an affidavit from a non-relative — that they were in the U.S. prior to 2007 to get their provisional visas. This kind of documentation is easily fabricated. The bill included an extendable 18-month period in which people may apply for a probationary visa.

The significance of the provisional visa can not be overstated. Once an illegal alien acquires this visa he has immediate legal status in our country.

The discovery of fraud in the application process will cause revocation, but there is no realistic reason to think millions of illegal aliens who dump their applications on the federal bureaucracy will be adequately screened. Drug dealers who work the border area will gain the right to walk our streets in the light of day. Many more people will head north of the Rio Grande to acquire false documents and a provisional visa.

Alarmist or realist?

Do I exaggerate? Meese reminds us that six months after terrorist Mohammed Atta flew into the North Tower in New York City, government agencies found no basis for denying him a visa. Furthermore, attempts to amend this bill to exclude more categories of lawbreakers were defeated.

The next step toward a permanent visa for formerly illegal aliens involves the invoking of “triggers.” The Secretary of Homeland Security must attest to “operational control of 100 percent of the international land border between the United States and Mexico” before other procedures of granting legal status to illegal aliens go into effect. Lacking is any definition of “operational control.”

As amended, the bill also calls for other security efforts such as 370 miles of border fencing. Congressman Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) reminds us that the Secure Fence Act passed by Congress and signed by the president last year requires the construction of 854 miles of fencing. Hunter also informs us that only 12 miles have been constructed to date. Why should not all 854 miles of fencing authorized by the 2006 legislation be required?

Last year’s Fence Act also called for the hiring of 18,000 border patrol agents by the end of 2008, and about 15,000 have already been hired. The proposed bill would increase the border agents only by an additional 2,000, and while it calls for detention facilities for 31,500 detainees, the 2004 Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 required 43,000 new detention beds by the end of this year.

Sen. John Kyl (R-Ariz.) and other supporters of the bill have said critics should offer an alternative, but ignore the fact that the president and his administration have failed to consistently enforce the laws already on the books. This failure has caused many of the problems that we have now.

Holding somneone accountable

The flood of illegal aliens is attributed to the pull of our dynamic economy. Those of us familiar with the poverty and limited opportunities of Latin America can sympathize with those who only wish to improve their lot in life. However, our national sovereignty is defined by our borders, and the U.S. and not aliens or other governments should say who enters our nation. Those industries that attract these workers should be put on notice that all labor laws will be rigorously enforced.

Congress can assist in this effort by dealing with sanctuary cities the same way it dealt with liberal college campuses that barred military recruiters from campus. All federal funds for sewers, water systems, whatever should be cut off from these cities. No city or state should be granted amnesty when it thumbs its nose at Washington by announcing it will not assist in the administration or enforcement of federal immigration law.

Think about this. Suppose a mayor of a southern city in the U.S. announced that henceforth it would ignore federal civil rights laws. Do you think the media and the president would give him a pass?

Realistically it is most unlikely that the Bush administration will take the hard line suggested above — nor will Congress. Politics — not a lack of power or legal authority — explain why our immigration laws are inadequately enforced. Industries have fattened their bottom line by relying on aliens who often will work for less than Americans.

President Bush only lowers his standing in the eyes of grassroot supporters when he speaks as he did last week after meeting with Senate Republicans. He said the proposed legislation would improve enforcement and urged quick action. “I believe without the bill it’s going to be harder to enforce the border. The status quo is unacceptable.” These are words which will haunt him as more Americans understand what this legislation will do.

There is much more to this bill, but that is grist for another column. If this bill is defeated, the Congress can concentrate on further steps to protect the border. Legislation on this complex issue should be incremental and not comprehensive.

Once the executive the branch has demonstrated it will enforce all laws and secure the border, the Congress can debate other issues such as guest worker programs and which quotas of workers can be increased.

In the meantime, what do the weeks ahead hold for this legislation and what can citizens do? Democratic Majority leader Harry Reid has announced that the immigration bill will head back to the Senate floor where he shelved it on June 7. Leaders of both parties have allegedly agreed to limit the number of amendments that will be debated. There is good reason to believe that this bill could pass with the most egregious sections intact.

When Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) proposed an amendment that would strike the “Z” visas from the bill, their amendment failed 29-66. (Only 60 votes is necessary for cloture to bring the entire bill to the floor for a final vote.) So “Z” visas recently had the support of a super majority of the Senate. It should also be noted that Sen. DeMint’s efforts are frustrated by his South Carolina colleague, the Republican Senator Lindsey Graham. Graham has found a new friend in Ted Kennedy, and that is a fact many voters in the Palmetto state are not going to forget.

North Carolinians are blessed in that their senior Senator, Elizabeth Dole, has led the charge against this flawed legislation. She tells us on her web site, “I have fought tooth and nail to defeat this bill because it rushes to legalize millions of illegal aliens, which is not the urgent matter at hand. We must first focus on securing our border and enforcing our laws. We are a nation of laws — it’s time we act like it!”

Our junior senator, Richard Burr, is not as forceful. Burr, who has a Spanish language version of his Web site, waited until after two failed cloture votes on June 7 to state his continuing opposition to amnesty on his web site. It remains unclear if he concludes that the “Z” visas are a form of amnesty.

A final thought

Senators who may be inclined to support this bill after they have wrestled with final amendments should reflect on one ironic possibility. If the bill should receive a pass from the Senate, it could stall in the House where it would die a slow death. If that scenario plays out, the senators who stuck their necks into a noose fashioned by Ted Kennedy and George Bush will find themselves swinging in the breeze.

To contact Sen. Burr go to www.burr.senate.gov/ and send him an email. Or call his Washington office at 202.224.3154. To contact Sen. Dole, go to www.dole.senate.gov/ and send her an email of support. Or call her Washington office at 202.224.6342.

(Kirkwood Callahan has taught political science at four southern universities. He is retired and lives in Waynesville. He may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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